Bernard White
Justice & Unity in 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bernard White
Bernard White
Note from the editor:

A few days ago, Eddie Ellis, whom we respect deeply, posted to the Take Back WBAI Facebook page comments laying out what he thinks is wrong with this year's Justice and Unity strategy in the WBAI Local Station Board Elections.

Eddie Ellis

In the piece below, Bernard White replies to Eddie Ellis's thoughts on this subject.

I know that a couple of days have passed since Eddie Ellis made a post on the TakeBackWBAI.org Facebook site laying out what he considers to be the Justice & Unity (J&U) flawed election strategy. Several people have asked me about the post and I took some time out to explain to them J&U’s election strategy. Now I’ll try and do it here. First, let me say that Eddie’s advice is welcomed and it is something that he has been saying to me for quite awhile. I applaud him for finally standing up and making this statement in a public forum. It would be good if other “progressive” producers would also weigh in on these important issues: after all, many of them will be gone if this regime maintains a majority after the election. His post shows that he is one of the producers who loves the station and strongly suggests that he wants to see some positive change come out of this upcoming election. Although I believe his post is an honest and sincere appraisal I also think that it is flawed.

Eddie’s basic premise is predicated on what I believe to be incorrect assumptions. He has often told me, and now he has told you, that all of the J&U candidates have only focused on the injustices of the past and have not put forth a detailed plan for the future that would rally the troops behind us. He further states that this is the same strategy that was used for the last election and believes it is the reason why J&U lost the election to its ACE rivals in 2009. First of all, J&U did not lose the election. The election was stolen. His belief is that if J&U can overwhelm the ballot count with numbers it would be hard to steal this election, similar to the Obama victory. Last election over seven hundred votes disappeared from the final count. I know for a fact that some of those votes that went uncounted were the legitimate ballots of folks who voted for J&U candidates. I, on the other hand, feel that the awful sound and imposed content of the new WBAI is a prime motivator for a large response to the ACE regime. Just a little something to think about.

Although there may be others who feel the same as Eddie does, so far, he is the only producer that I have heard put forth an analysis. It is because I have such a profound respect for Eddie’s thinking that I feel compelled to offer this response to place this election in perspective and give it an additional context in which to view J&U’s strategy. It will take some time to tell you why I disagree with his assertion. Hopefully at the end of this submission we will all have a better understanding of this process and some of the hurdles we’ve to negotiate in order to get the word out. I hope that I’m interesting enough for you to read this entire narrative.

Since these comments follow on the heels of the latest on-air forums I assume that J&U’s participation in the forums comprise the material base for Eddie's analysis. The on-air forums are the only place where Eddie has heard the candidates talk about their candidacy. What I would expect is that folks who usually pay close attention to details would recognize how highly restrictive and controlled the on-air format is. Even though we only had 60 seconds to respond to each question, in a strongly policed setting, to the degree that J&U candidates could talk about the future they did. Could they elaborate or go into details...not with this format. And, of course, that was the goal of instituting such a coercive structure? Operating within these narrow parameters, efforts were consistently made by J&U candidates to lay out a vision for the future direction of WBAI. If you notice all of our candidates talked about J&U having a comprehensive recovery plan and listeners were repeatedly directed to the J&U website where they could see the details. In addition a mailer was sent to 16,000 subscribers clearly delineating J&U’s ideas for the future.

Eddie believes that we should not talk about the past injustices carried out by this board’s majority. I think that to avoid mentioning the recent actions of the new board majority is tantamount to saying, "don’t give an historical analysis and avoid placing this moment in context." Eddie speaks about this election as if all conditions are exactly the same as the last election. There are qualitative differences between the last election and this one. Listeners and supporters are not in the same frame of mind and have acquired shared experiences that were not available in the summer of '09. Listeners have been bombarded for seventeen months with slanderous lies of nuclear proportion without any substantive opposition. Folks who would normally automatically reject these lies, because they have not heard any refutation over the airwaves, particularly from people they respect, have questions that they want answered. For the last seventeen months the opposition has been repeating their narrative over and over and over. It is a false notion to assume that this has had no impact or that people on the outside know as much as people behind the wall about what is actually happening at WBAI and Pacifica...because they don’t. Some have a part of the story but most are at best confused. Believe it or not many of BAI’s producers share their confusion, some conveniently so. The first question I get from listeners is, “What happened?” From the queries I get while attending community forums around the city, where WBAI often becomes the subject, it is absolutely clear that many listeners don’t know what’s going on and want an explanation about the things that they have been told for the last year and a half. These are our listeners and supporters for the most part and they have been misled. Any message that we give must take this reality into consideration if it is going to be successful. In Eddie’s perception, to do this is going backwards and taking the same “losing strategy” as in the last election. I am shocked that there is a denial of the role that reviewing history plays in brining clarity to this struggle or to any subject that warrants an explanation. I am shocked because he clearly recognizes the role that sharing history plays in discussing other struggles.

This past Monday I went to hear Tim Wise at St. Paul’s Church as part of the MAAFA celebration. There were about two hundred people in attendance. A question was raised about Wise being banned from WBAI’s airwaves and he spent some time talking about the racism at Pacifica and WBAI (history) and then talked about the future of Pacifica if it continued on its present path. At least six people came up to me after the lecture to ask me “what’s going on at WBAI.” They were listeners who were totally confused. One woman whom I know fairly well asked me about a rumor she heard that I had stolen money. She wanted to know, what’s up with that? This is an important issue about something that is supposed to have happened (but didn't!) in the past...(history). A full explanation of that accusation as to why it is not only a lie but malicious slander is, according to Eddie’s analysis, placing my response in the “blah,blah,blah” category. Two people asked me if I was still on the air because they haven’t heard me in a while. They thought that I was still out on sick leave. I’m saying all of this to point out that our audience is a mixture of various levels of comprehension on the issues. The people that we want to reach and whom we want to energize don’t all fall into one level of understanding, therefore our message must take that into consideration. The knowledge that history brings is a great equalizer and we attempt to use it judiciously.

Over the past two Saturdays, “while sipping my second cup of coffee” I heard two wonderful On The Count programs. One program talked about the Criminal Justice Program that Eddie is a part of at Medgar Evers College and how it is under attack by the present administration. I had heard the story before on previous On The Count programs and I also read about it in the local newspapers. Each time I heard the story, Eddie spent time debunking the prevailing myths that were being put forth by the college’s administration...(history). In order to insure understanding we listeners and readers were presented the rationale for such a program and we were told why the program was important. The following Saturday was the anniversary of Attica and once again an excellent program. In order to get listeners to understand the significance of the Attica rebellion of September 9, 1971, time was spent debunking the myths that were spread about what happened at Attica, detailing the conditions that gave rise to the rebellion… (history). Then there was talk about the programs that came out of this tragedy after the history was discussed. You can’t talk about the future unless there is some commonality of understanding about the past. What made these programs so fascinating and important was the total package: the past, the present and the future. If J&U were to talk about the future without at least mentioning the history (the bannings and the firings and the lies) the future would make no sense. You have to establish the need for a plan, a program, a rebellion. The way that you establish the need for a plan is to present the conditions that your plan would address. The reasons that the opposition have given for changes they have imposed are not based on the true history. These myths, as in the case of the destruction of the much needed Criminal Justice Program at Medgar Evers and the Attica rebellion, had to be soundly crushed and replaced by the truth.

We got 60 seconds to make our case; they had seventeen months to present their narrative. Even though I was restrained by the time limit, I spoke about increasing WBAI’s footprint in cyberspace. I pointed out how we could do radio with a visual component very inexpensively. (This is new technology that has quadrupled in use over the last twelve months.) I mentioned how it would give us access to a larger audience as well as a younger audience and of course an international audience. I did not have time to tell them that it is already being done with a camera and a lap top at WBAIX where I am the Program Director. My time was up before I could tell them that two years ago I had gotten WBAI a $10,000 grant and bought the equipment necessary for WBAI to start doing that kind of programming, inside the community…tomorrow…today…..in the morning…on a regular basis. This of course is an excellent plan for building listenership and increasing revenue, however too long for 60 seconds.

In addition, certain arguments are so odious and misleading that they have to be debunked and deconstructed because they are not real issues...(history). It is hard to debunk an issue without mentioning what the issue is. I did not have time to tell the listeners, in detail, that we were not losing listeners. In fact, before Riddle and I were terminated our listenership was on an annual incline. Yes we have lost "subscribers", but so has every listener sponsored radio in the United States of America under this economic climate. Even the New York Times is crying big tears about their loss in readership, their subscriber base is dwindling. The primary reason why WBAI is in this “mess” is because of the location of the station on Wall Street and the world-wide economic crisis which has had its most devastating effect on a significant segment of our listener base. We must move. But as I said, I did not get an opportunity to talk about this extremely important issue in any detail.

Lastly but not finally, revenue has not gone down because of (allegedly) poor programming put in place while I was Program Director. WBAI’s program grid is not the cause its economic problems. Do you think I could explain the "why" of that in 30 seconds after first answering the inane question that I was asked and without giving the history of the firings, bannings and removals without due process? What would be the context for my proposal?

Eddie has ended several email exchanges that we’ve had with the axiom, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you got.” I think that he is partially correct. I believe that if the silent producers keep doing what they are doing we’ll keep getting what we’ve got. Somehow outraged producers need to figure out a way to help get information to the listeners that all is not well. I believe that their silence is consent. I understand that it is difficult to speak up but it is not impossible. Progressive producers should be creative enough and dedicated enough to inform themselves about the issues and then respond appropriately in the interest of the listeners when they see Pacifica’s mission as well as the rights of their co-workers being trampled on. Where is the outrage?

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph. --Haile Selassie

I have nothing but admiration and love for brother Eddie Ellis, he his one of the most sincere, intelligent brothers that I’ve ever met. I hope that those of you who’ve struggled through to the end of this document also notice the level of discussion that we engage in and the very low level exchanges of our opposition.

By the way, my admiration for Eddie would increase geometrically if he could say the following and give details in 60 seconds.

Okay begin the count NOW:

J&U’s Ten Point Plan to Save WBAI
  1. Safeguard the historic local autonomy of WBAI’s transmitter & programming.
  2. Hire multi-skilled, broadcast-savvy, community-minded managers; protect all producers’ self-expression; reinstate removed dissenters.
  3. Pursue a capital campaign to purchase a WBAI facility; develop vigorous off-air fundraising programs.
  4. Actively build listenership among a new generation of activists.
  5. Reforge connections with grassroots groups and community media; expand outreach events.
  6. Protect locally-based programming for peace with justice.
  7. Restrict campaign spending for local board elections.
  8. Hold a national convention to improve Pacifica bylaws, including mandating diversity.
  9. Honor the labor contracts with the unpaid and paid staff unions.
  10. Demand transparency for local & national board meetings; expand public participation; return to open membership on local board committees.

WBAI: Financial Stability and Growth are Possible

With help from the Local Station Board, staff, WBAI members and listeners, together we can:

  • Mount a capital campaign and pursue city building grants/loans to buy our own studio, thus reducing huge rent bills.
  • Resume search for compatible tenants to sublet part of WBAI’s studios.
  • Build a dedicated team to address the problem of ordering and shipping premiums.
  • Hire a full-time development director to lead robust off-air fundraising—awards dinners, concerts, planned giving, and more.
  • Through revitalized committee work, recruit listeners of all ages and ethnicities via grassroots multi-media—Internet, Facebook, Twitter,“Town Hall” events, WBAI palm-cards, and more.
  • Expand online distribution and archiving of WBAI programs.
  • Create long-term, multi-channel expansion of WBAI programming via sideband, hybrid-digital radio, and cable TV.
  • Create a Pacifica record label to raise money, and showcase the work of progressive cultural workers.